Many people tend to see Palestinians through the lens of their chosen stereotype because we’re all brought up with certain clichés about Palestine. And though there are exceptions, these stereotypes are all we hear and know about. The picture that then emerges, of something called Palestine, is surprisingly consistent and coherent. There is a lot of material contributing to the creation of this unified image of Palestine and Palestinians – with a set character and characteristics emphasising broad themes of refugee flows and dispossession, anger, violence and resistance – that just keeps coming back.
But what do we expect from representations about this land that is everywhere and nowhere, on all our television screens and newspapers? But not in a territory it can confidently call its own?
What do we think we know about this place that is real and familiar as well as fictional and foreign?
We expect work about Palestine to show us individuals consumed by victimhood or criminality. Images so harsh that we convince ourselves that the situation however tragic simply cannot be helped. Guns, blood, and wailing mothers, piercing screams and bodies consumed with rage and grief. We expect to see people, and though they resemble us in many ways, whose circumstances, actions and reactions make them wholly ‘other’ in relation to ourselves. We see victims whose character has become defined and deformed by the occupation and apartheid. We see anonymous people without agency stripped of the banalities of daily life that make them human.
There’s a lot that is misunderstood or not seen by the people, and the media, in the West.
The result of the medias focus on a select few visual tropes that casts Palestinians as either victims of the occupation (in one way or another) or radicalised terrorists means that all people in Palestine come to be understood in the same limited and destructive way. Understanding a complex society such as Palestine in this narrow way takes away from the humanity and diversity of ordinary Palestinians.
But there is no Palestinian ‘defect’, there is no ‘other.’
And Palestine simply is not the place so many of us presume to know. It may not ‘exist’ as a geographical entity. But Palestine exists in an intangible manner, as a space of memory and future hope. Palestine is a promise that is constantly on the threshold of a physical reality.
And the Palestinians I met are confident that Palestine will continue to develop and mature, despite its shrinking territory. Palestine is insisting on its existence, it’s refusing to be forgotten because Palestinians defiantly live their identity everyday.
They have been resisting by singing, dancing, reciting poetry, celebrating their heritage, their craftsmanship, Palestinian food and art and by remembering. They refuse to forget who they are or to abandon their identity.
Facing relentless adversity, Palestinians have to constantly reconstruct the sense of normality that we take for granted. We often don’t realise how vulnerable this illusion of normality and stability is. It’s at risk of being undermined, broken down, and even annihilated. It’s in need of fervent protection. And this is what the people of Palestine do.
They keep going, rebuilding, restarting, and living, no matter what keeps coming.
This on-going portrait project doesn’t set out to speak for Palestinians or tell stories of the occupation.
It’s intended to be a corrective portrait of people who – having to negotiate conflict, resist occupation and who may have been reduced to stereotypes – are confident, ambitious, talented and capable individuals.
The people I’ve met don’t defy stereotypes. They are their own persons. Their work, passions, craft and art are exercises in understanding and efforts to comprehend the transience of things that are essential in shaping life.
I believe that seeing is transformation.
Seeing is change. And I want to be changed. I want to understand the world we live in today and how history continues to impact us.
I want to tell stories. With pictures. And my portraits. Because I believe there is so much to be learned. The world is full of stories that need to be told. And I believe that by listening to other people’s stories, by seeing their realities through their eyes, we can learn.
Photography is my tool to record the lives and stories of my sitters, to document our world and our relationships in it. And it’s my way of assuring my sitters that their lives are important.
Though it may be a simple approach to my work, I believe that it contains the potential to change. To change myself. And to change the way people who have lived through conflict, have fled war or are still experiencing conflict today, are seen.
Not as victims. But people who choose life.
Sometimes, I say that my work as issue based but I think my photography is mainly proof that I, but most importantly the people in my images, were here. We lived.